England's Dreamland Margate rescues, restores historic thrill rides

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

Dreamland Margate in England plans to reopen in 2013 as the world’s first amusement park dedicated to last-of-a-kind historic thrill rides, including one of the world's oldest roller coasters.

Located about 75 miles east of London, the waterfront amusement park hopes to attract 350,000 visitors annually with a collection of vintage rides that include a whip, caterpillar, haunted swing, fun house and shoot-the-chute water ride.

PHOTOS: Dreamland Margate heritage amusement park in England

Dating to 1863 as a dance hall, the seaside location that would become Dreamland Margate eventually added a circus menagerie, pleasure gardens and amusement rides.

The Save Dreamland campaign was formed in 2003 with the announcement of the park's closure. A master plan unveiled in 2009 called for restoring the nine-acre property as a heritage amusement park. Dreamland Margate is expected to reopen in 2013 with the assistance of $17 million in government funds and grants.

The revitalized park will be based around a trio of structures listed on England's registry of historic places: the Scenic Railway roller coaster, the Art Deco cinema and Lord George Sanger’s animal cages.

The plan is to salvage and restore a number of vintage rides rescued from parks around the United Kingdom. Many of the historic rides will be relocated from the original 1912 Pleasureland Southport in northwest England, which closed in 2006.

Restoration work has already begun on the cinema's iconic 80-foot-tall Dreamland sign and the Scenic Railway that was partially burned in 2008. Plans call for converting the animal cages into exhibition spaces.

An amusement park made up of vintage rides sounds like a dream come true for me. This past summer I took a road trip across America's coaster belt in hopes of riding a vanishing collection of turn-of-the-century attractions. Many of those classics are now being assembled at Dreamland.

Here's a rundown of the historic rides planned for Dreamland Margate:

Scenic Railway

Built in 1920, Dreamland's signature ride lost its station house, distinctive trains and a central section of track section during a devastating 2008 fire. Upon reopening, the brakeman-operated ride would become the oldest coaster in the United Kingdom (displacing the 1923 Big Dipper at Blackpool Pleasure Beach in northwest England).

Water Chute

The 1958 shoot-the-chute water ride operated at Rhyl’s Ocean Beach Fun Fair in Wales until the park closed in 2007. Dreamland will employ the boats and mechanical parts from the original ride, the last surviving circular Water Chute in the world. An identical water chute operated at Dreamland until 1995.

River Caves

Built in 1923 at Pleasureland Southport, the indoor boat ride took passengers on a meandering river journey past tableaux scenes and through caves and tunnels. At Dreamland, which featured a River Caves attraction until 1984, passengers will embark on a whimsical journey in search of mythical dream creatures.

Fun House

Rescued from Pleasureland Southport, the Dreamland attraction will feature the original 1955 machinery from the United Kingdom's last traditional Fun House, including moving steps, ramps and floors and a spinning table known as the social mixer.

Wild Mouse

The wooden Wild Mouse coaster gives the sensation that the white-knuckle ride will fly off the track during each turn because the wheels are positioned near the rear of the car. Built in 1960 at Morecambe Pleasure Park in northwest England, the coaster was relocated to Pleasureland Southport in 1999. Only two wooden Wild Mouse coasters survive in the UK, with the other at Blackpool Pleasure Beach.

Corbiere Wheel

A Ferris wheel with a twist, the Corbiere Wheel spins vertically while also rotating horizontally at the base. Built in 1956, the world's only spherical motion wheel spent most of its life at Clarence Pier on England's south coast before moving to Pleasureland Southport.

Ghost Train

The 1978 Ghost Train from Pleasureland Southport is similar to several dark rides that operated at Dreamland over the years. The park may resurrect a "Journey Into Space" theme for the spinning-car ride.


Dating to 1914, Europe's last surviving Whip was removed from Blackpool Pleasure Beach in 2008. Designed and built by W. F. Mangels Co. of Coney Island, N.Y., the simple ride consists of two opposing turntables with a cable loop that pulls cars around a laminated wooden track. The Blackpool Whip is identical to one that operated at Dreamland.

Haunted Swing

The 1961 Haunted Swing from Pleasureland Southport creates the optical illusion that riders sitting on a swinging bench are rotating head over heels. The Haunted Swing at Dreamland was called the Rock and Roll House.


The 1914 Caterpillar from Pleasureland Southport is one of the last undulating canopy-covered rides in the world. Dreamland’s 1922 Caterpillar ride operated until the 1980s.


The typical Galloper carousel features brightly painted horses and a few bench seats. Dreamland is still trying to acquire a classic carousel.


While Dreamland never featured a ski lift-style Cableway ride, the park is considering a route stretching toward the ocean along the main entrance corridor. The 1974 aerial Cableway ride was originally installed at Pleasureland Southport.

Junior Whip

The last surviving junior whip ride in the United Kingdom opened at Blackpool Pleasure Beach in 1927.


The 1969 Meteorite centrifugal force wheel from Pleasureland Southport tilts at a 45-degree angle during operation.

Helter Skelter

Dreamland has featured a lighthouse-shaped Helter Skelter spiral slide since 1980. The park is still trying to acquire a vintage version of the ride.

Mirror Maze

Built in 1961, the Mirror Maze from Pleasureland Southport was known as 1001 Troubles.

Flying Scooters

The 1997 replica of the popular vintage amusement park ride will be relocated from Pleasureland Southport. Riders manipulate large rudders to control the flight path of the cable-suspended cars as they spin around a central hub.

Copyright © 2018, The Virginia Gazette